Before we get started a quick disclaimer: This guide covers what to expect as a student of New Zealand exchanging to Japan and the process will differ for students of other countries; though much of the information is likely similar. Along a similar vein, this guide is current as of early 2015 and may well become outdated somewhere down the line.
This page is split into two sections: The first outlines some general advice/considerations for potential exchange students and the second covers what to expect of the exchange process by outlining step by step my experience applying for and being accepted for exchange.
Section A: I thought I would begin by outlining some things you should know when thinking about going on exchange; including some advice, barriers to entry, how to overcome them and some of the positive aspects of going on exchange.
1) You want to apply as early as possible: As you may have guessed from my main post, preparing for a student exchange takes quite some time. While it could be prepared in under a year generally you are going to want to leave yourself as much time as possible; as it is never too early to begin planning your exchange. This is perhaps the most important of these points; which will become apparent as you read the points below.
2) You want around a B average: While not set in stone, if you are not achieving a B or higher average you may not get accepted into the program. You can still apply and potentially be accepted however; depending on how many other students are applying at the same time as you. The flip side of this is that if you have a higher average, B+ or A, you have a very, very good chance of being accepted for exchange; subject to your host university’s approval. If you are in your first year, as I was, your average will be calculated from your first 120 credits (or 8 papers) and you can begin the process before you have actually completed the papers and double check the grade requirements later in the process.
3) Exchanges cost money: While this may seem obvious, the cost of flights, insurance, accommodation, utilities, food and general expenses quickly add up; not even mentioning spending money or hidden costs such as travel adapters or gifts you may wish to bring. Compounding this, some universities, such as Nagoya, will ask you for proof that you have enough money to survive the duration of your exchange in Japan. While you may have the money ‘in theory’ you may not have $4000 on hand to satisfy this requirement; particularly if you are relying on stipend style scholarships or student allowance to cover some of the cost of your exchange. So it is best to plan ahead and begin saving early, as it is far better to have some extra spending money than it is to be denied at the last hurdle. Another potential solution is to pick a university which helps with costs or provides subsidized or free accommodation; Nagoya is an example of such a university and provides its students with a monthly stipend which covers accommodation, utilities plus a bit more.
4) Paper requirements can be tricky: If you have or plan to eat through your first year papers early in your degree you may be limiting your options for exchange. Most exchange programs offer a wide assortment of first year papers; but some can be very limited when it comes to second or third year papers. As such it is again best to plan far ahead and talk to your academic adviser about tailoring your paper choices to enable you to exchange where you would like; this will most likely the a part of the exchange process itself so it is more about going and expressing interest in an exchange early than anything else. Some universities, such as Massey, also offer distance learning papers you can take to bolster your papers taken while on exchange which can further enable some students to participate.
5) Your university wants you to go on exchange: While the first three points may seem daunting to some; you will be getting a lot of support and encouragement from your schools international office in organizing and financing your exchange. Exchanges are good for universities as they promote relationships with other universities and gives the university and opportunity to show off some of its awesome students. If the grade bar concerns you, it very well may not be an issue; if they have room to send you on exchange and one of your chosen universities is willing to accept you you will still get to go. Concerned over costs? Some universities, such as Massey, have travel grants automatically given to exchange students to help mitigate costs, sometimes as much as $1500, and there are a number of scholarships available which are surprisingly accessible and generous; while it is not a good idea to rely of such scholarships there is a reasonable chance that you will get some kind of support for your exchange if you apply for everything. Paper requirements a problem? There is a chance you could study less than full time and still go on exchange for the experience; assuming you are willing to take a little longer to finish your degree. So while there are some scary looking requirements when considering an exchange there is a mountain of help available to make the process easier.
6) Exchange programs look excellent on your CV: While there are many, many reasons to want to go on exchange enhancing your CV may well be high on the list. As students we will all have to get jobs on day and likely all harbor some form of anxiety regarding our future after graduation. Student exchange programs offer students the opportunity to stand apart from the crowd and apply for many accessible scholarships at the same time. Having an exchange on your CV tells an employer you made the most of your time at university, will capitalize on opportunity and generally just makes you look like a more well rounded applicant. Similarly scholarships are always a good way to spruce up a CV and exchange scholarships often have a smaller pool of applicants than general scholarships; sometimes there is little to no competition for some scholarships so it is always worth applying. If you wanted to go even further some very prestegious universities accept exchange applicants from NZ so you may well be able to wow and employer with an exchange to such institutions.
7) Exchange Programs are an excellent way to travel or learn a language: Always want to visit the US or learn Arabic when your university does not teach it? An exchange could provide you with the opportunity to both explore a country you have always wanted to visit at a reduced cost. Often planning travel can be difficult, particularly soon into a new job after graduation, so why not take your trip abroad while studying and let scholarships potentially mitigate the costs? Exchanging to certain universities will also allow you to take papers you could not take otherwise at your current university; in particular language papers which are easier to learn in countries where the language is spoken anyway.
As you can see there are many things to think about when considering going on exchange, but there are also many reasons to jump at the chance to take part. Thus far my experience has been a blast and I highly encourage anyone considering an exchange to talk to your university; you will likely find mountains of support and opportunities you did not know were available.
Section B: This section will overview the process I went through at Massey in order to provide potential exchange students with an idea of what to expect. (still to come)
Section C,D and E? I am considering adding more specific sections advising potential students about how the Japanese paper system works, how to use/charge gadgets in Japan and some general language tips etc; though this section would be updated after I gain more experience within Japan. If you are interested in these details or have any other suggestions for advice to incorporate into the guide let me know in the comments and that will encourage me to finish these sections rather than stop at general exchange advice.
Cheers for reading! 🙂